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Married Minnesota gays will gain tax, pension, other federal benefits

Michael Knaapen, left, and his husband, John Becker, embrace Wednesday in front of the Supreme Court in Washington after the court struck down a federal provision denying benefits to legally married gay couples. AP photo

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota same-sex couples who can wed beginning in a little more than a month will receive the same benefits as other married couples after the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled unconstitutional a federal law that did not recognize gay marriage.

Among the most important of those benefits is allowing same-sex couples file joint income tax returns to receive a lower tax rate and Social Security to be collected based on a spouse's income, Executive Director Chuck Samuelson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said.

Federal pensions, including those from the military, also will benefit gay spouses, he said.

Many of the benefits are in federal tax law, Samuelson added, benefits not allowed when the Defense of Marriage Act was on the books.

On a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

By striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the court cleared the way for legally married couples to claim more than 1,100 federal benefits, rights and burdens linked to marriage status.

The majority of justices decided that marriage is among issues that states alone may regulate.

"The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy, often the court's swing vote in close decisions, said the law imposed "a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states."

The ruling follows Minnesota's decision this spring to allow same-sex couples to wed beginning in August.

Minnesota Democrats were thrilled with the decision, and Republicans said little.

"Our country is starting to understand that it's not about what a family looks like: It's about their love and commitment to one another," said U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

"Great year for marriage equality in DC and MN, but there is still work to be done at the federal level," U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., tweeted minutes after Wednesday's high court ruling.

"There are seminal moments in our country's history which have made this country great," DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin tweeted. "Today's ... ruling is one of them. Equality for all!"

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who represents a district north and northwest of the Twin Cities, was the rare Republican to comment on the ruling.

"Marriage was created by the hand of God," she said. "No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted."

Bachmann said governments have been undermining God's will on the issue since 2000.

"What the court has done will undermine the best interest of children and the best interests of the United States," Bachmann said.

The leader of Minnesota's campaign to fight gay marriage, John Helmberger of Minnesota for Marriage, said the court "found no constitutional right to save-sex marriage."

"The court's rulings today affirm that the conversation about marriage can continue among citizens in the states," he said.

Helmberger emphasized that the court ruling says states can decide about gay marriage. "The Supreme Court has affirmed that the people have the opportunity to reinstate gender-based marriage here in Minnesota and other similarly situated states."

Minnesotans have been debating gay marriage for more than two years.

In May 2011, a Republican-controlled Legislature passed a measure that would have enshrined in the state Constitution a gay marriage ban. An 18-month campaign ended in November of last year with the country's first voter defeat of such a plan.

This year, the two sides engaged in the campaign turned their attention to efforts to pass a bill to overturn existing law forbidding gay marriage. That legislative vote in May set the stage for allowing gays to marry beginning in August.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.